Abortion Providers Inject Fetuses With Lethal Drugs Prior To Procedure To Avoid Prosecution

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Many abortion providers in response to the Supreme Court decisionto uphold a ban on so-called "partial-birth" abortion have beguninjecting fetuses with lethal drugs prior to the procedure to avoidaccusations that they violated the ban and potential prosecution, the Boston Globe reports. According to the Globe,medical staff members inject fetuses older than 18 to 20 weeks'gestation with the heart drug digoxin or potassium chloride to ensurethe fetus is dead before the abortion is performed.

If a fetusis not dead when it begins to emerge from the woman's body, medicalstaff could be accused of violating the law under the Partial BirthAbortion Ban Act. Although providers are not performing the bannedprocedure, many "feel compelled to do all they can to protectthemselves and their staff from the possibility of being accused," the Globe reports.

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According to the Globe,the injections can cause a slight risk to the woman and do not providea medical benefit. Philip Darney, chief of obstetrics at San Francisco General Hospital,and colleagues have studied the two drugs used in the injections. Theyfound that digoxin is safe but provides no advantages in performing theactual procedure. They also found no safety record for potassiumchloride, but a few cases suggest that it could be dangerous if it isaccidentally injected into the woman instead of the fetus. Theresearchers determined that women undergoing abortions should decidewhether to use the injections. Darney, who has decided not to use theinjections, said the researchers do not "believe that our patientsshould take a risk for which the only clear benefit is a legal one tothe physician."

The National Abortion Federationin response to increasing interest among abortion providers in usingdigoxin has developed guidelines for NAF members on using theinjections and is conducting training. Mark Nichols, an ob-gynprofessor at Oregon Health & Science University,said he believes the majority of late-term abortion providers aremaking the injections routine, adding that he requires injections forall fetuses beginning at 20 weeks' gestation at his clinic. He saidthat although he respects Darney's position on the injections, he is a"little bit more concerned about the risk for the faculty and staff."According to Michael Greene, director of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, patients have not objected to the injections.

Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have made the injections standard policy for all abortions beginning at 20 weeks' gestation, according to Greene. In addition, Boston Medical Center has begun using the injections for later-term surgical abortions, according to Phillip Stubblefield, an ob-gyn professor at Boston University School of Medicine. Greene said, "No physician even wants to be accused of stumbling into accidentally doing one of these procedures" (Goldberg, Boston Globe, 8/10).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyWomen's Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for emaildelivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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